It’s hard to believe now, but back in January I had never cooked beetroot in my life. It was probably, of all the vegetables, the one that inspired the most fear. But as soon as I began ordering a vegetable box weekly in February, there was no escaping beetroot. Pretty much every week there were a few muddy red cannonballs at the bottom of the box. I had to get used to them, and before long I was chucking beetroot in with the potatoes to roast in the oven, I was putting them into soups and rissottos, or grating them into rosti. I have grown used to them, their slightly grainy texture, their sweetness, the extraordinary variety of colours and patterns. Now I am dismayed to find no more beetroot in the box!
My grandmother did grow and cook beetroot, but she never put it on our plates: it was served separately as a condiment. She grew what she called “baby beet” which she pickled and served up in a jar at the table “for anyone who wants them” with a salad. Those who wanted them were invariably men, and I can remember my grandfather’s big working man’s hands struggling to fish a tiny maroon beetroot out of the narrow necked jar with a teaspoon. This was an operation that quite often failed, and a small beetroot would come spinning out of the jar and bounce across the tablecloth leaving terrifying purple stains. It left me with the conviction that beetroot were a dangerous adult taste, like whisky and cigarettes.